Queen of the surf: not yet

August 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

Since my parents moved from Dublin to Tramore over ten years ago, I have been going there for my summer holidays. Tramore’s seafront was familiar to me as a child, but I associated it only with the ‘hurdy gurdies’ as my mother calls them. Over the last ten years, I have noticed, without being particularly interested, that surfboards were for sale.

When I was a child, surfing was as remote to me as ice-skating on frozen ponds. The Irish climate is neither hot enough for the first nor cold enough for the second. But today, despite the weather, people surf. Not, of course, in Californian-style surfer shorts but in wet suits. We may not have the hot weather but we have the equipment.

And this year, I tried surfing myself. I anticipated that once the balancing on the surfboard had been mastered, there would be nothing to surfing.

Balancing on the board may indeed be the hardest thing to master, but I cannot comment on that. I didn’t advance far enough. For me, the obstacles to surfing began far earlier.

Although you, in the sea, are buoyant and weightless, you, on a surfboard, are not. Far from being weightless, you weigh, it seems, as much as lead. You can hardly muster the strength to do anything other than lie on the surfboard, exhausted.

To surf you need to get from this prone position to a kneeling one (preliminary step to getting up on the board). Did you think you would stand first time? I did.

The trouble is that you need a lot of upper body strength. Now you can see where those neglected cobra and sphinx yoga positions might come in. You are lying with your toes over the end of the board and your hands at shoulder level on the rails (sides) of the board. You must raise yourself up cobrawise and then bring your knees forward. (This is a rough sketch of what you do. My explanations are impressionistic rather than pedagogical.)

Once you have brought your knees roughly level to your hands, you then bring one leg forward into a half kneeling position. Now you turn your body at right angles to the shore but, all the time, you look towards the shore. Then you rise, arms outstretched. Once risen, knees slightly bent and feet angled, you are surfing.

But when you try this for the first time, it seems impossible to raise up your upper body and then draw that leaden weight of a body forward. If you push down on the board, instead of using your upper body strength (to raise your upper body), your board will be submerged in water and you will go no further.

Surfing is harder for adults than children. Children may well pop up (that is what you are to do when afloat on the surfboard) but we adults, who have been doing very little about our upper body strength, flounder.

And the brain is sluggish too. What was it that came next? Not only is it difficult to do all the steps, it is even difficult to think what step is next.

On my second surf lesson, 48 hours later, I found that I was altogether less exhausted and made many attempts to ‘pop’ up on the board. To the observer on the shoreline, it may have seemed that I was very bad indeed, that I had not improved since my first lesson, but correction: I was comparatively brilliant. That nearly all my attempts to ‘pop’ up on the board were crowned ultimately with failure and followed by falling off into the water, does not alter the fact.

And I would say this in my defence: rugby players, Billy Butler (founder of Freedom Surf School) informed me, are exhausted after half an hour. You see, many sports, rugby included, do not prepare people for the upper body workout that surfing entails.

However exhausting surfing was, it was fun. That says a lot. For many of us the thought of being in a crowded gym, working out or rowing, cycling or running on a machine that goes nowhere is depressing. In contrast, surfing is attractive: you are out of doors, in the sea, in a wide open space where you need be in no one’s way and no one need be in yours. And it is to be remembered, so far, that there are no entry fees to the sea.

I surfed with the Freedom Surf School which is one of a number of surf schools on the Tramore seafront. If I were surfing again, I would return to Freedom Surf School. Billy Butler must have been one of the first surfers in Ireland, in his adapted scuba diving suit, some 35 years ago.


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